LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric
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  1. #1
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    LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Something really unusual: a Hamilton "Pacer" presented to then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson in 1958, two years before he was elected Vice-President and five years before he assumed the Presidency upon Kennedy's assassination.





    Overall it's in amazing condition. There is some wear on the back edges, but the original glass crystal is 100% flawless, as is the original dial. The strap is a high-quality contemporary alligator replacement.

    The movement was a joy to work on -- it's so rare to find a 500 that hasn't been butchered over the years. There's one watchmaker's mark in the case back, a two-letter code. I suspect that was probably for a battery change. I wonder if he might have been wearing this watch when he was asked to run for VP in 1960?

    I have another LBJ Hamilton Electric watch, but it's one that he gave to someone else, not one given to him. His gift watches are well-documented. He had Hamilton Electrics as well as other brands made with custom dials bearing his distinctive initials, and the 'golden rule' (which he was obsessed with). These were given out to favored guests and staff.



    I got some background info from the consignment dealer who sold it:

    Yes. i can tell you what the former owner told me. Perhaps going forward I will be able to tell you more, depending on how much the former owner will voluntarily tell me.

    This watch was given to a 4 tour Vietnam combat veteran, a black airman, by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, during a White House ceremony. I do not know the exact type of medal this airman received, but the President decided to give him something else special: the watch.

    This combat decorated veteran gave it to his grandson before passing away some years ago. The grandson came to our store wanting to sell his grandpa and grandma's watches for $150. I told him that I would not/could not in good conscience pay him that money for these special remembrances. Therefore, I consigned it for him, getting him much more that he imagined. He is happier, probably much happier than you, because he now has a brief measure of immediate financial relief even if of a transient nature. But I digress. I will attempt to give more information to you as I glean it. Perhaps dates, times, names, etc.
    I have no reason to doubt this story. LBJ was very well-known for his lavish gift-giving. The 'Golden Rule' watches are just one of many examples of that. But if the story is true, it means that he wore this Pacer at least occasionally as President.

    Meanwhile, I contacted the Johnson Presidential Library and they confirmed the event engraved on the case back.

    In the Statements collection, Box 26, "10/18/58 Address, Democratic Meeting, Welch, West Virginia," there are copies of Senator Johnson's speech, and a letter from West Virginia Attorney General W. W. Barron to Johnson's aide, George Reedy, and Reedy's response about the Senator's upcoming speech in West Virginia. Of particular interest to you may be the program for this event which includes an entry for the "Presentation of Gift" by B. M. Stone.
    Here's pages one and three of the program (page two is a photo/bio of Johnson, page four is a list of local notables in attendance):





    Separately I heard from their audio-visual department about (hopefully) finding a photo of Johnson wearing the watch. No luck there -- needle in a haystack:

    Sen. Johnson did visit Welch WV on October 18, 1958. Here's the entry from our files:

    10/18 LBJ goes to the Mayflower to meet with Truman. In the afternoon LBJ, Reedy and Wiley fly to Bluefield, West Virginia and meet with area people before driving to Welch, West Va. That evening LBJ is a speaker at the Democratic fundraising dinner, where he accuses the Republicans of “running against Eugene Debs,” the late Socialist leader, and taking a “can’t afford it” attitude toward problems.

    So far we haven't run across any photos showing LBJ wearing this Hamilton watch. This is impossible to search in our current database. Looking through thousands of actual photos requires a "brute force" effort, and the Library doesn't have resources (staff & time) to undertake such monumental tasks.
    I'm not quite sure how, but I'll keep trying to find a photograph, and I'll also try to learn more about the award ceremony where the watch was reportedly given to a Vietnam vet.

    But based on the info acquired so far, I'm very confident that the watch is not only completely authentic, but that Johnson wore it as President (at least occasionally).
    bspargo, Eeeb, Marrick and 7 others like this.

  2. #2
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Wow!
    I am sure its authentic
    Did he wear it? I got no idea.
    Prove he did and yoy have a fantastic piece

    PS - The watch is fantastic in its own right
    A
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    That's really a nice find. I have a Pacer. It originally had a 500 movement in it, but since I never saw one before I broke the contacts putting the battery in, and wound up having to replace the movement with a modified 505.

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  5. #4
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Quote Originally Posted by RonD. View Post
    That's really a nice find. I have a Pacer. It originally had a 500 movement in it, but since I never saw one before I broke the contacts putting the battery in, and wound up having to replace the movement with a modified 505.
    Ron!!
    You will NEVER get on the staff (watchmaker)of Presidents!! LOL
    JP71624 likes this.
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

  6. #5
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Rene, thanks for a most interesting post.

  7. #6
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Quote Originally Posted by RON in PA View Post
    Rene, thanks for a most interesting post.
    +1. Fabulous stuff.
    Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects."

    Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)


    Please don't PM me to ask for a valuation - I won't attempt one.

  8. #7
    Member HamiltonElectric's Avatar
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    Just a small update as I continue digging into the hidden story behind this interesting watch.

    I've scoured the NY Times archives for anything that might possibly corroborate the story I was told about Johnson giving it to a Vietnam veteran, but I have not been able to find anything conclusive.

    But I came upon something which really intrigued me. I found a very long article from 1967 about Johnson's Chief of Staff, Marvin Watson, ("Traffic Cop" is what the article called him). Just as a short comment the article mentions "the flashing gold of his cuff links and the dash of his triangular wrist watch." Interesting that a triangular watch was something so unusual that the reporter, and his editor, felt it warranted mention in the article. The Pacer given to Johnson in 1958 was triangular; Watson was clearly very, very close to President Johnson as far back as the mid-1950s; so I figured it is not implausible that Johnson may have gifted him his old (or even not-so-old) watch if Watson expressed admiration. President Johnson was very generous.

    After further research I discovered that Watson is still alive, 89 years old, and thanks to a friend I got his address and phone number. So this morning I called him. We had a delightful conversation. Really nice guy with a wealth of great stories about his years at the White House.
    But -- my theory that Johnson might have given it to him doesn't hold up: his Pacer mentioned in the NY Times story was his own, a gift from his wife in 1958. He still has it, though he hasn't worn it since 1969 when Johnson gave him a Rolex as a parting present upon leaving office.

    But he did tell me he wore it the whole time he worked for Johnson -- 10 years. It was the only watch he wore for that decade. (So much for the tiresome old claim about Hamilton Electrics that "these watches never worked right.")

    He did tell me a lot more about the other LBJ watch I have. As I had already learned, Johnson gave a lot of them away. He also said that although he couldn't verify the specific event, the story related by the seller -- Johnson giving a Vietnam vet the watch right off his own wrist -- is totally plausible. He said that Johnson did that sort of thing often, with wristwatches or cuff links so he personally saw no reason to doubt it.

    He further said that Johnson was very passionate about watches and had a large collection. They were very important to him.

    So, the exact details on this one are still uncertain, but Mr. Watson at least confirmed that the seller's claim is very likely to be true. I just need to find conclusive proof.

    Back to the drawing board.

    Shum, redcow, john*thomas and 1 others like this.

  9. #8
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    OUTSTANDING research and perseverance to get the facts
    That is what HOROLOGY is all about
    (bow)
    Kudos to you
    AND
    Thanks that great update
    Adam
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

  10. #9
    Member HamiltonElectric's Avatar
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    :blushing here: Thanks for the kind comments.

    I love this sort of research and when I latch onto something I'm like a dog with a bone. I tend to get obsessed.

    I fully agree with the comment in your signature line. With vintage watches it's not about the watch, what matters is the context of its history. It doesn't need to be Presidential. Even the most humble watch gains incalculable interest when you understand something about what that watch meant to its original owner, or what significance it had to its era.

    I'm still hoping that someday I can update this thread with a photo showing the watch on his wrist.

  11. #10
    Member HOROLOGIST007's Avatar
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    Re: LBJ's Hamilton "Pacer" Electric

    I am sure you will.
    and
    I 100% believe in my signature
    Great work - its museum curator sort of stuff - really
    adam
    NEVER ARGUE WITH AN IDIOT. FIRST THEY WILL DRAG YOU DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL. THEN, THEY WILL BEAT YOU WITH EXPERIENCE.

    "Failure is not an option" - Gene Kranz
    "Owning a vintage watch is great, understanding where it sits in Horology is magnificent"
    and
    "By Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves"
    Adam

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